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Chef Counters on the Rise; Chefs Put in Their Time on the Line

As chefs and cooks take on more roles of service, they cut out more costs and create a more intimate dining experience, especially at restaurants with counters overlooking the food preparation. [NYT] Related: Ringside Seats at the Chef's Counter Apparently, restaurants’ hanging of red velvet curtains in colder months signals metaphors of birth and womblike spaces for diners. Ew. [NYO] Chefs like Akhtar Nawab of Elettaria and Josh Eden of Shorty’s.32 both spent years cooking on the line before being able to fly solo. [TONY]

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The Mystery of the Pitmasters Stymies the ‘Times’

The Times, touching on a story Grub Street broke when Moses was in short pants, had a big feature on the dearth of experienced pitmasters Sunday, pegged on GS pal Big Lou Elrose of Wildwood. The piece marvels at the quick ascent of Big Lou from working an Ozone Park lunch wagon to his current post, but in fact, Elrose’s bones were made as Adam Perry Lang’s right hand man in competition; the lunch wagon was just a lark. Still, the city’s top pitmasters are as baffling to food writers as they are to the general public. Their job is hard to understand, because nothing they do happens while customers are present to observe. The pitmaster's art is exercised in the dead night, in secrecy and silence, and outside observers rarely get any glimpse of what it involves. There is one factor that never changes, though, and will always separate real pitmasters from merely titular ones.

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Dom De Marco's Hands of Steel; Smith's Opens Tonight in the South Village

Astoria: The Sparrow’s pain perdu dessert is “basically a grilled chocolate croissant with homemade butterscotch syrup on it, with a dollop of real whipped cream on the side.” [Joey in Astoria] Harlem: Doug E.’s Fresh Chicken and Waffles still isn’t ready to open. [Uptown Flavor] Gramercy: Blue Smoke takes top honors in this roundup of the city’s best sweet-potato fries. [Gridskipper] Greenwich Village: Smith’s from this week’s Openings starts serving tonight. [Eater] Midwood: Yes, Dom De Marco’s pies at Di Fara’s are impressive, but what’s really cause for amazement is “his asbestos hands. That man can pull a square pie out of the oven, which must be about 800 degrees, with his bare hands.” [Eat for Victory/VV] Nolita: Public’s butternut-squash soup with spiced marshmallows, crispy chickpeas, and pumpkin-seed oil is just one example in this list of fall dishes showing up all over town. [Restaurant Girl] Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens: Meytex Lounge is now calling itself Meytex Cafe, but their tasty fried chicken hasn’t changed. [Across the Park]

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Hard Times Drive Wall Street to Drink; Happy Birthday, Big Mac

The unused Building D of Essex Street Market may get new life. Residents want low-rent housing there; city law compels the building to be used for food-related businesses. [NYT] Two veterans of Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke will open Huckleberry Bar, described as “the bar at your favorite Danny Meyer restaurant” but in East Williamsburg. There will also be British and southern mix of small plates from a 5 Ninth alum, no doubt like the food at your favorite Zak Pelaccio restaurant. [Strong Buzz] Hard liquor sales on Wall Street are up significantly since the stock market plummeted on August. 16, says one wine shop owner. [NYT]

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Meatopia V: Grilled Gore and Guts

Mr. Cutlets
The response to our Meatopia V contest has been overwhelming. Grub Street is populated by committed carnivores who have filled our meat cooler with brilliant ideas for next year’s edible animal gala. We’ll highlight some of the best throughout the day and announce the winners tomorrow. (Entry deadline is 6 p.m. today.) Here are three of our favorites.

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What Is Summer for But Barbecue, Ice Cream, and Vegetables?

Summer's end is already in sight: The All-Star Game is in the books, and another Fourth of July has passed without America being challenged by either the British or savage conquerors from another planet. All that remains are the most basic elements of summer eating: barbecue, ice cream, and fresh vegetables. And that happy trinity constitutes this week’s food section. Adam Platt finally finds barbecue happiness at Hill Country, so much so that the loquacious critic was reduced to declaring the ribs “really, really good.” Also on the subject of barbecue, Rob and Robin announce the debut of three more places, from a New Hampshire Yankee, a former boy-band star, and two ex–Blue Smoke cooks. The Robs also give the world their definitive list of the city’s top four ice-cream places (the best one rhymes with “Tom”). Finally, there's a conspicuously healthy recipe for zucchini with mint and scallions via the Slow Food haven Franny’s, in (where else?) Park Slope.

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Video Proof: NYC About to Be the City That Has It All

Earlier this week we lamented that you can’t ride a mechanical bull in these parts without first riding the PATH train. That’s fixin’ to change tomorrow, when subterranean Tex-Mex spot Johnny Utah’s opens with a $25,000 mechanical bull front-and-center in a seventeen-foot-diameter ring (the law requires eight feet on each side). The beast, which will have nonfunctional “grazing” and functional “running-of-the-bulls” hours, was custom-built and trucked in from Idaho by a cowboy-writer named Cody, who the owners (also involved in Gin Lane) say is “the bull guy” (visit mechanicalbulls.com if you want your own). “Our mechanical bull is our mascot,” says Bobby Rossi (the mascot, by the way, costs $10,000 per year to insure). “We’re not an adult Chuck E. Cheese.”

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‘Next Food Network Star’ Contestant Accused of Fudging Past; Scott Conant Has Projects in Play

Ex-Marine Josh Adam Garcia, one of the standout contestants on The Next Food Network Star, is accused of lying about both his military service and graduating from cooking school. [Marine Corps Times] Scott Conant has Miami and New York projects on the horizon. And his go-to restaurants in New York are Daniel, Café Boulud, Daisy May’s, Blue Smoke, and Tsushima. [RG] Some food-world heavy hitters recollect their greatest meat moments, as a follow-up to yesterday’s Times story about the fatty times we live in. [Diner’s Journal/NYT]

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Old Frenchmen Pass Facial Inspection at GoldBar in Little Italy

Brooklyn Heights: “Closed by the Commissioner of Health” clearly taken lightly at Heights Cafe where diners have been spotted munching the mediocre fare. [Brooklyn Heights Blog] Chelsea: Richard Ruben, author of The Farmer’s Market Cookbook, will host classes at the Institute of Culinary Education starting June 1 that begin with an ingredient hunt at Union Square’s Greenmarket. [Blog Chelsea] East Hampton: Restaurants open seven days starting this weekend, including Nick & Toni’s and Harbor Bistro. [Hamptons.com] Fort Greene: Locals search for answers to the fate of the space at Lafayette and Cumberland Avenues, have high hopes for Thai but as yet no answers. [Brooklyn Record] Little Italy: A two-way mirror intensifies the door policy at GoldBar, but if you have a face like an old Frenchman, you shouldn’t have a problem. [Down by the Hipster] Prospect Heights: Flatbush Farm hosting another barbecue this weekend. [Eater]

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Chodorow, While Still Bitter, Lifts Ban on Platt

Adam Platt and Frank Bruni are no longer banned from Jeffrey Chodorow’s restaurants. Even though, says the restaurateur, Platt “missed the whole point of Wild Salmon.” [Restaurant Girl] Related: Salmon Cured? [NYM] In a revealing interview, Marco Pierre White takes a stand against the star-chef game: “Can you imagine: You take your wife out to my restaurant for dinner, and I'm not behind the stove. You find out I'm in America — how would you feel when you've just done $1,200 for dinner? It's a sour taste, isn't it?” [Salon] Thomas Keller announces that he isn’t really the man at Per Se: “I [speak] as someone who is somewhat detached from it because it is a Jonathan Benno restaurant.” [MSN]

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Appearing Tonight: Soft-shell Crabs at Anthos and Lamb Trio at Café Boulud

Every Thursday we’ll tell you what specials some of the city’s best restaurants have planned for that night. This week: Spring vegetables, the first fish of the warm seasons, and a few delicious holdovers from the cold winter months. Anthos: Pan-fried soft-shell crabs, breaded in water chestnut flour, served over a smoked egg vinaigrette with lovage, white asparagus, spring green almonds, and pickled pearl red onions. 36 W. 52nd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-582-6900. Café Boulud: Lamb trio: braised lamb neck, roasted and confited lamb loin, and lamb kefta (spiced ground-lamb turnover), garnished with red lentils, carrots, and almond-stuffed prunes. 20 E. 76th St., nr. Madison Ave..; 212-772-2600. Gramercy Tavern: Suckling-pig porchetta, stuffed with house-made fennel sausage and Swiss chard, and served on a bed of rutabaga purée with grilled Swiss-chard leaves and braised Swiss-chard stems. 42 E. 20th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 212-477-0777. JoJo: Grilled organic pork chop, marinated with Chinese cumin and honey, and served with wild ramps and fava beans. 160 E. 64th St., nr. Lexington Ave..; 212-223-5656. Blue Smoke: Barbecued organic turkey with apple sausage stuffing and bacon-braised collard greens. 116 E. 27th St., nr. Park Ave.; 212-447-7733.

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The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party Steamrolls the Opposition

The Danny Meyer broadcasting service just put out the word: The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is on for this year. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Although the annual June bonanza is hugely popular, it’s also massively challenging. Past barbecuers have expressed much dismay that souvenirs and T-shirts yield very little profit (food profits go to the Madison Park Conservancy), and that the travel allowance doesn’t cover the cost of transporting heavy smoking equipment across hundreds of miles.

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Hill Country to Challenge Blue Smoke, RUB on Their Own Turf

Hill Country BBQ, we've learned from owner Mark Glosserman, has officially signed its lease and begun construction at 30 West 26th Street, just a few blocks from Blue Smoke and RUB . Isn’t it bad medicine to open so close to a pair of established, busy barbecues? Says Glosserman: “It's a great spot, and the price was right, and we're in a big office building, so there will be a lot of traffic even though it's a side street. We have a lot of faith in our product.” No doubt. But we actually like Hill Country's chances. New Yorkers have shown a willingness to go the extra mile to eat great barbecue: Daisy May's BBQ sat on a desolate stretch of Eleventh Avenue and didn't even have tables; RUB ran out of meat every night; Blue Smoke barely had any smoke flavor during its first year, as a result of chimney malfunction. Glosserman hired the best barbecue cooker in the city, Robert Richter. If Hill Country delivers the goods, New Yorkers will support it … right?

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Rude Questions for Danny Meyer

Über-restaurateur Danny Meyer will be at Bottlerocket Wine and & Spirits tonight talking about his new book, Setting the Table. If we had the courage, we'd fire off the following questions at the event.

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